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Healthy Thanksgiving dinner swaps

Kathryn Matthews is a New York City-based lifestyles writer, editor and Certified Holistic Health Coach. She has written extensively about food, dining, nutrition, health and travel for numerous publications, including The New York Times...

Cooking tips and healthy upgrades

Our modern Thanksgiving is a day when gluttony and overindulgence are expected — and encouraged. Here we're looking at healthy Thanksgiving-day swaps!

Cooking tips and healthy upgrades


Traditional: Spirit-based cocktails, like martinis, or fruit-juice based libations, beer and soda

Healthy upgrade: Wine, gluten-free beer and mineral water

  1. Antioxidant-rich wines — red, sparkling, or Champagne — are linked to improved cardiovascular health when consumed in moderation. For example, Sardinian Cannonau has the highest level of antioxidants of all red wines.
  2. Gluten-free beers — those with no wheat, barley, rye and malt — will be a welcome option for guests who have a wheat or gluten sensitivity. Try Green’s, which uses alternative grains such as sorghum, millet, rice and buckwheat in their gluten-free beers.
  3. Mineral water, plain or spritzed with lemon or lime, is the best non-alcoholic option — and one where you’ll wake up hangover-free the next morning.

The turkey

Traditional: Frozen commercial supermarket turkey

Healthy upgrade: Local: Buy your bird from a local farm or farmers’ market. Free-range organic turkey: Order in advance from a local farm or online. Heritage-breed turkey (based on the first breed of turkey that actually existed in the U.S.): Purchase online from Heritage Foods USA. The meat will be leaner and more flavorful.

Mashed potatoes

Traditional: Mashed white potatoes with store-bought cream and butter

Healthy upgrade: Mashed sweet potatoes. Bake, peel and mash with grass-fed butter or coconut oil. Add minced ginger root, freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon, if desired.


Traditional: White-flour and butter-based gravy

Healthy upgrade: Use plain turkey jus (natural juices), or thicken turkey drippings with a little arrowroot and water or chicken stock.

Cranberry sauce

Traditional: The popular Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce contains 21 grams of sugar and 25 grams of carbs per 1/4-cup serving — and you can be sure that you’re getting a good dose of BPA (bisphenol-A), an endocrine disruptor in the lining of the can. (Babies and children are especially sensitive to the effects of BPA.)

Healthy upgrade: Raw cranberry sauce. Sweeten fresh, whole cranberries naturally, with one navel orange, orange zest and coconut nectar, or raw honey. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well blended. An equivalent quarter-cup serving is relatively low in carbs and sugar, and totally BPA-free.

Green bean casserole

Traditional: A classic green bean casserole typically calls for condensed cream of mushroom soup and French-fried onions, and is chock-full of sodium, preservatives and additives — a recipe for raising your blood pressure.

Healthy upgrade: Steam green beans and toss in a vinaigrette of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, garlic and fresh chopped herbs.

Pumpkin pie

Traditional: Pumpkin pie filling, typically sweetened with sugar and evaporated milk, is usually poured into a white-flour crust and served with processed whipped cream.

Healthy upgrade: Use a ground nut-based crust, like hazelnut or almond flour. For the filling, mix an organic pumpkin puree with desired spices and sweeten with a minimal amount of raw honey or Grade B maple syrup. Use coconut milk instead of regular milk to add creaminess. Another option is to serve pumpkin souffles (think of it as pumpkin pie without a crust!)

Desserts (other)

Traditional: Apple pie, pecan pie

Healthy upgrade: Baked apple compote served with raw honey-roasted walnuts (or nuts of choice)

More on healthy eating

Healthy holiday diet strategies
Holiday diet tips to keep you trim
How to make your meals healthier this holiday

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